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Bishop Denis’ Homily at the Congregational Gathering of the Presentation Sisters in Mt St Anne’s

Presentation Congregational Gathering:                                                         19.03.2024


I am very pleased to join with you this evening, in this the last week of your tenth Congregational Gathering, this time here in Mount St. Anne’s, home to the Presentation Congregation for nearly ninety years. I welcome delegates from all over the world who have travelled here to Mount St. Anne’s for this gathering.

Your theme ‘Embracing Vulnerability as Possibility’ allows you to keep the lantern of Nano Nagle lit in new and perhaps novel ways. It is seeing vulnerability, weakness, sensitivity as something to be welcomed, embraced and named.

We gather for Eucharist on the evening of the Feast of St. Joseph. Pope Francis often speaks of his fondness for an image of the ‘Sleeping St. Joseph’, perhaps it is more of a ‘Dreaming St. Joseph’, as Joseph rests while perhaps the rest of us sweat the small stuff. This image of St. Joseph testifies to the importance of taking time out to step back and explore the possibilities of a reimagined Presentation calling, on the eve of the 250th Anniversary of the Congregations foundation.

The Synodal Pathway we are on, is one of communion, participation and mission. Venerable Nano Nagle’s life and ministry holds the potential to breathe fresh impetus into our collective missionary efforts today, not just the Congregation’s but on all whose lives have been lit up by the glimmer of Nano’s lantern.

And so as we prepare to celebrate these sacred mysteries, we pray …

  • Is tusa Tobar na Trócaire – You are the wellspring of mercy: A Thiarna, déan trócaire 
  • Is tusa Slí na Fírinne – You are the way of Truth:  A Chríost, déan trócaire
  • Bí linn i gconaí, ós ár gcomhair amachBe with us always, showing us the way. A Thiarna, déan trócaire


In the face of fear, she chose to be daring,

In the face of anxiety, she chose to trust,

In the face of impossibility, she chose to begin.

To universal misery she opposed ministry to persons,

To ignorance, knowledge,

To disillusionment, tenacity of purpose,

And to multiple vexations, singleness of heart.

Faced with failure, she held fast to hope,

Faced with death, she believed in a living future,

And a programme for that future she gave in one word,


Sr. Raphael Consedine captures very well the profile of Nano in her excellent poem from around 2001. Her verses saves time from going through terrain and territory that is so familiar to all who know the Presentation story. A story that began in 1775 seeing the foundation of the Presentation Sisters against the backdrop of the persecutions that marked Penal Ireland. Nano saw that the only way out of poverty was through education. Like many others, she knew the pathway to possibility was rooted in acquiring skills and a desire to better themselves. I was interested to learn that of the seven schools she initially established in Cork City, five were for girls and two for boys.

The image of the “lady with the lantern” is one that is rooted in Cork’s lanes and alleyways as she sought out the poor, the destitute. Her first biographer Bishop William Coppinger of Cloyne, described her on her rounds visiting the homes of the poor: “How often have we seen her, returning through the darkness of the night, dripping with rain, moving along by the faint glimmering of a wretched lantern”. Whatever about the accuracy of that earliest fundraising panegyric[2] from Coppinger, dated from about ten years after her death, our own Liam Lawton seems to have clinched it with his composition ‘Who will light the Lantern?’. This piece was at the request of the late Sr. Anna Hyland as a Presentation anthem, with its very pertinent chorus:

Who will light the lantern and keep it burning bright?

Who will search the darkness where shadows seek the light

Who will find the courage to sing a different song?

Who will light the lantern and go one step beyond?[3]

To “go that one step beyond”, it is our challenge, how do we reimagine the Nano Nagle call in 2024? Might her lantern shine a light on the conditions of the makeshift camp of migrants on Mount Street? Might her lantern draw attention to the appalling images on all media platforms on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day as that Mount Street site was cleared, one couldn’t help but think, ‘out of sight, out of mind’? Might the glimmer of her lantern reflect the frightened eyes of Palestinian children playing in rubble on the Gaza strip? Might it speak to other injustices and inequalities that stare us in the face in 2024, maybe inequalities in education opportunity under our noses here in Ireland, particularly for those with particular needs and complexities? Might her lantern highlight the interconnectedness of creation, the interdependency of the web of life. What we do or what we fail to do, has a direct impact on the poorest of the poor. And it was those that Nano served in eighteenth century Cork.

Scripture introduces Joseph, as a “man of honour[4], who devotes himself to the protection of both Mother and Child. No words of Joseph are spoken or recorded. Saint John Paul II saw it as an indication of the contemplation that stands behind his actions. The very splendid sculpture of Joseph at his carpentry bench by the artist John Hogan is worthy of note in the Cathedral in Carlow. It always reminds me, while Joseph was a man of few words, he wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves when needed. And neither was Nano in life. And neither should we.

The gospel I opted to use for this evenings celebration comes from St. Luke. It’s an account of the losing of Jesus among the temple teachers. He was aged twelve. Mary and Joseph only realised he was missing after “a day’s journey[5]. They retrace their steps and, like the resurrection, it is only “three days later[6], He is found conversing with doctors and teachers. Nano realised the value of education as an escape from poverty. Perhaps the poverty we have today is a poverty of religious literacy rather than material poverty. Maybe it is a lack of confidence or articulation to speak on faith matters in a public square. People haven’t the vocabulary or the language to speak on faith matters. Nano didn’t work on isolated projects, she established systems, as she addressed the poverty of body and soul among the urban poor of Cork.

The time has come, as evidenced in the recent debates on the referendums of family and care to address the crisis of faith language and confidence in articulating same. Nano, a woman of faith, hope and heroic virtue whose vision and work transformed the lives of so many, may we find new Nano’s today who will address the poverty of catechesis and understanding among today’s faithful. Like Jesus we too need to get lost in the temple, in the classroom, in the lecture hall, in the tutorial rooms where people gather. Only then we will be helping to keep Nano’s lantern lit.    

[1] Consedine, Raphael pbvm, ‘Songs for the Journey’ – Profile: Nano Nagle, 2001

[2] As per ‘Nano Nagle – the Life and the Legacy’ by Deirdre Raftery, Catriona Delaney & Catherine Nowlan -Roebuck, it was a eulogy delivered in 1794 to raise funds for a charity, the Cork Amicable Society, pg. 2, 2019.

[3] Lawton, Liam, ‘Who will light the Lantern?, commissioned by Sr. Anna Hyland

[4] Mt.1:19

[5] Lk.2:44

[6] Lk.2:46